As the United States reels from raucous, nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, a huge crowd of people turned out for a solidarity rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Demonstrators held a moment of silence for George Floyd, the Black man who died during an arrest where a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.
Floyd’s death kicked off waves of protests and riots across the United States over the weekend.
Vancouver demonstrators gathered at 5 p.m., and by 6 p.m., the event remained peaceful.
“I see these things across United States and I see what happened in Toronto, you get the sense of helplessness, you want to do something, but you don’t know how to do something,” organizer Jacob Callender-Prasad told Global News.
“For the last few years, we’re seeing everything that’s been going on, I felt the time was now to stand up and do real change. No more can we sit in silence, no more should we allow these acts of violence to continue happening.”
Back in 2016, Callender-Prasad was himself the subject of a frightening interaction with police, when he was held at gunpoint in what Burnaby RCMP later admitted was a case of mistaken identity.
Vancouver’s protest also follows the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died in an interaction with Toronto police. Korchinksi-Paquet’s family alleges she was pushed from a balcony, which the union representing Toronto police denies. Ontario’s police watchdog is investigating.
Thousands of supporters filled the streets of Toronto on Saturday in a peaceful protest over her death and wider issues of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.
In a social media post, Callender-Prasad said Vancouver’s event would honour Floyd and other Black people who have lost their lives due to police brutality.
Callender-Prasad stressed to Global News that Sunday’s event is to be a peaceful protest.
“I felt that we had issues, actual racist issues in the city that we need to address, that we need to bring head-on to the people who will listen,” he said.
“You need to do it in the most peaceful way possible. We do not need a riot in the city. We do not need to destroy our community. We need to do it peacefully.”
Callender-Prasad said he has been working with Vancouver police to ensure the event is safe, and that he is encouraging anyone who attends to maintain physical distancing. People who are ill were asked not to attend.
In an emailed statement, Vancouver police spokesperson Sgt. Aaron Roed confirmed police were monitoring the event.
“Our primary purpose is to protect the safety of the protesters, the public and the police”, Roed said.
“We respect peaceful protests and during public demonstrations, police response is proportionate to the activities observed.”
Global News asked the Ministry of Health whether it would be enforcing its ban against gatherings of more than 50 people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The province supplied a statement from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, which said it is important both for people to stand against hate, and to protect B.C.’s vulnerable from the virus.
“For those demonstrating today — please do so safely. Keep your distance. Wear a mask. Keep your germs to yourself,” said Henry in the statement.
“Ignoring physical distancing measures is dangerous and it puts your family, friends and neighbours at risk.”
Vancouver’s chapter of Black Lives Matters issued a statement Saturday saying it would not attend the event over COVID-19 concerns.
“We do not feel that we can ensure the safety of our community in public protest at this time. Furthermore, the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, has asked that no protest be held in their daughters name. We will respect that,” said the organization in an Instagram post.
“Right now, our priority and concern is keeping Black people safe and promoting some rest.”
On Saturday, about 100 protesters marched through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in support of Floyd.